I don't consider myself particularly outdoors-y. I've never loved camping or backpacking and I enjoy curling up on the couch on wet or snowy days equally as much as I love sipping my coffee on the porch or going for walks on fairweather days. However, after reading only a few pages of Linda Akeson McGurk's There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather, I knew I wanted to add more outdoor time to our lifestyle, since mounting research correlates greater time spent outdoors with happier, healthier, more confident, and creative children.
I picked up There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather last fall when I found myself routinely telling my eager preschooler that we couldn't play outside because it was too rainy, cold, or windy. I started to feel guilty about denying him outdoor playtime when, in truth, I was the one who didn't want to venture out into what I considered to be suboptimal weather conditions. My toddler and preschooler, on the other hand, had just as much fun splashing in puddles and playing in snow as they did digging in sandboxes and frequenting splash pads. When I started to hear my son internalize those sentiments, saying things like, "The weather is yucky today," or "We don't like rain," I knew we needed to make a change.
As fall turned into a full-blown Canadian winter, I shifted my mindset and acquired the gear we would need to get outside every day. (Think wool or polyester long underwear as a base layer, a fleece mid-layer, a balaclava-style hat, and insulated and waterproof snowsuits, mittens, and boots.) Then, I presented the project with gusto, telling the kids that it's good for us to get outside each day.
Despite freezing temperatures, I'll tell them what a nice winter day it is. Or, if it's particularly frigid, I tell them that it's very cold today so we have to wear extra layers in order to dress for the weather and enjoy our time outside. I'm happy to report they have started to echo those attitudes. Just the other day, I smiled to myself when my son declared, "It's a beautiful day!" in the midst of a snowstorm.
To pass our time outdoors last month, some days we went for walks in the woods, sledding, or to local playgrounds. Other days we simply played in our own backyard. I try to stand back and let the kids make their own fun, which usually consists of making snow piles to climb, playing hide and seek, or simply eating snow.
Before long, the kids accepted that going outside everyday is part of our daily routine. There are still days when going outside is met with protests, but they are rare. We head outside with the goal of staying out for 15 minutes, but usually they become engaged in their play and we stay out much longer.
The results have been more positive than I imagined. Both children fall asleep quickly at night and sleep well. Meltdowns and sibling quarrels still happen on occasion, but they are far less frequent than when we are inside. In addition, when we're outside the kids tend to find more creative ways to engage themselves for long periods of time, contrasted with their indoor play which tends to be much louder, hyperactive, and disjointed. Those factors combined make me less stressed as a mother. Importantly, instead of merely tolerating the winter season, we now enjoy all it has to offer — complete with an appreciation for the comfort of coming inside after time well spent outdoors! Dangerous weather conditions aside, we will certainly continue the habit of daily outdoor play.